Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

In his poems, Frost almost always reveals the connectedness of nature to humanity, and of all humans to one another. Poems such as “Design” stress the organized nature of the universe. Others, such as “Tree at My Window” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” explore the inner and outer aspects of nature in relation to the internal and external struggles of the poet. Human beings must exist within and deal with the external forces of nature. At the same time, the connections that individuals share with one another are at times all-consuming within that wider frame. Together, people learn to deal with the elements and with their natural yearnings, including love, in life. However, personal relationships are rarely as clear-cut as the lines drawn between humans and the natural forces of the environment.

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“The Silken Tent” succinctly draws the forces of nature and relationships into focus in a few remarkably well-chosen words. Those words, in the form of a sonnet, present a vivid image on a number of levels and thus speak to the reader in a number of different ways. Frost has a gift for making the truly complex appear simple. “The Silken Tent” can be read on a literal level, as a poem that uses the image of a tent to symbolize lust or love. One may also see it as a love poem. It is, however, much more.

This poem is a commentary on love through the ages as well as in modern times. Frost speaks of love as the eternal challenge of the ages, as an all-encompassing force that pulls readers in a number of directions at once. It both throws one off balance and supports innermost needs. It challenges and sustains the soul at the same time. Yet love can be elusive and ephemeral. Even when one knows that it is there, love is not always easy to see. It is always changing, as one is changed by the progression of natural forces in life. Love requires freedom of movement, but the “bondage” of which true lovers are acutely aware is a positive connection that is self-sustaining for both parties. It is this connection that brings about the “sureness of the soul” which is the pinnacle of love made manifest between two people.

It is that sureness, that contentment, that Frost seeks through the metaphor of the tent. As with human relationships, a poem must sway and move, be able to sustain the varied threads of thought the poet and the reader bring to the verse. A poem must therefore have the strength to sustain the thought and the resilience to speak to an ever-changing audience without sacrificing its sense of form. The poet must maintain his sense of self and, like the central cedar pole, support his thoughts and ideas, always aware that he is, like the silken tent, subject to the forces of the natural world. Yet the poet must also always be true to the metaphor waiting to take form from deep within when the time is right. In “The Silken Tent” Frost gives form to the aspects of human nature that are often overlooked by the purely objective eye.

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